AISD board approves four-day instructional week

AISD board approves four-day instructional week
Posted on 12/14/2018
AISD board approves four-day instructional week

AISD board approves four-day instructional week for 2019-2020 school year

The Athens ISD Board of Trustees voted on Friday to approve the district’s proposal of a four-day instructional week beginning with the 2019-2020 instructional year. The program is a three-year pilot program.

“This is a bold move,” said AISD Superintendent Blake Stiles following the meeting. “We’re asking a lot of our parents, our community and our kids. We know change is frightening. But we’re willing to push through uncertainty because we believe it’s the best thing for our students. 

“We know without a doubt that what helps a child succeed in the classroom, more than any other factor, is having a great teacher. In order to keep the great teachers we already have and attract new ones, we’ve got to be bold. We’re not interested in following other districts. We’re interested in leading.”

Prior to taking action, board members heard from community members and parents both for and against the proposal and received a lengthy presentation on the process from Deputy Superintendent Dr. Janie Sims and Assistant Superintendent Jami Ivey. 

During their presentations, Sims and Ivey addressed several issues that have been raised as items of concern. Among those noted:

Students will not receive any fewer minutes of total instruction time under a four-day calendar than they do under the current calendar. 
Increases to teacher salaries whenever possible will continue to be a priority for the district. No employee will lose benefits.
Friday meals will be made available to students in need through a potential expansion of the current “backpack” program — which sends food home with children at the beginning of each weekend — and meals being offered at a central campus location. 
Afternoon snacks will be made available to all students pre-K through 12th grade.
Extracurricular activities, such as athletics, band and debate, will continue to take place on Fridays, with the district providing transportation for those students as needed.
A Tuesday through Friday calendar was not a viable option to the district due to the fact that roughly 40 percent of high school students take classes at Trinity Valley Community College, which has a Monday through Thursday schedule in place.
First-of-the-school-year practice for extracurricular activities, such as football, volleyball and band, will not start any earlier in the summer than it has, as regulated by UIL rules.

Sims noted that childcare on Friday was the most cited concern on both the employee and parent surveys gathered last week. The district is “committed to continuing to find a solution,” she said. “I’ve had several calls from daycare providers who want to be in a discussion to see what can be done to help alleviate the problem. Those discussion are still to come.”

Several parents, a teacher and a local employer addressed the board. Those in opposition to the proposal cited concerns such as childcare, longer days, loss of family time in the afternoons, not enough community input, and concerns over involvement with extracurricular activities. 

Parent Amy Lunceford spoke on behalf of the four-day week. Lunceford, whose child has been in Athens ISD since kindergarten, said she elected to home school her child this semester and plans to return her to Athens Middle School in January. Near the beginning of the home school process, Lunceford said they moved from a five-day instructional week to a four-day instructional week and found the benefits to be significant. 

“Six months ago I would have been on the side speaking against this,” she said. “... I know the difference now between a child who has time to process what they’re learning and has down time, and a child who is pushed the entire week. … Unless you’ve actually lived it as a parent, you don’t get it. … What it does for my daughter is more important than how it inconveniences me.”

South Athens Elementary first-grade teacher Sandy Carter addressed the board on behalf of the campus leadership team. “One of the concerning things we’ve noticed is a drop in the quality and quantity of teacher applicants,” she said. “We know that the number-one determining factor of academic success is the instructor in the classroom. Simply put, we’ve got to attract and keep dedicated and skilled educators. If this drastic change in our work week is what it takes, then let's do that. Our kids deserve it.”

Superintendent Blake Stiles has emphasized that the primary reasons for promoting a four-day instructional week is to recruit and retain the best teachers in order to offer students of AISD the best possible classroom instruction. In fact, though some concerned community members have cited cost savings as an issue, Athens ISD considers a four-day instructional week to be revenue neutral.

“The Athens ISD Board of Trustees is committed to serving the educational needs of our students by hiring and retaining teachers of exceptional quality,” said Board President Rob Risko, following the meeting. “We believe that the new four-day academic week will uniquely allow our district to accomplish this goal since the best teachers are vital to learning.”

Superintendent Stiles said he has spoken to leadership at several school districts who have already instituted a four-day instructional week. 

“They say in the beginning there is resistance, and after the first year, it is viewed overwhelmingly favorably by parents,” said Stiles. “The bottom line is that this is about our children. Is there going to be inconvenience and some sacrifice involved? Yes. Will it be worth it because of what we gain in the classroom? Yes. We believe it will.”

The new school year will begin Aug. 5, with the last day of instruction being May 28 and graduation on May 29. In order to comply with the state’s requirements for a minimum number of instructional minutes during a school year, the instructional day will increase by 50 minutes. Elementary students will start the day at 7:45 and end at 3:55. For middle school and high school students, the day will start at approximately 8 and end at approximately 4:25.

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